Law, Politics and Society across the British Empire, 1750-1960: Sources (HIH3298)

StaffDr Nandini Chatterjee - Convenor
Credit Value30
ECTS Value15
NQF Level6
Pre-requisitesAt least 90 credits of History at Level 1 and/or Level 2.
Co-requisitesHIH3299 Law, politics and society across the British empire, 1750-1960: Context
Duration of Module Term 1: 11 weeks; Term 2: 11 weeks;

Module aims

This is a module about the historical role of law in the British empire, and involves training in using relevant sources for studying it. ‘Law’ itself is conceived of very broadly, and in line with that approach, the module will train students to use not only traditional legal sources - such as statutes, law reports, treaties and agreements – but also ethnographic, philosophical, literary and visual material in order to access the many meanings and uses of law for various people across the British empire. The module will  make use of large bodies of relevant historical and legal material available in digital form online; one such resource being developed by the lead tutor herself Some of the other large and rich online resources that will be used are ; ; ; (on India) and (on Australia). It will also make use of the House of Commons Parliamentary Papers, the Hansard, the Times Digital Archive and
Students will also use sources such as writings (produced by Europeans and non-Europeans) on jurisprudence, political philosophy, poetry, art and memoirs. By using a combination of tutor-led seminars and lectures, student-led seminars and independent study, the module will enable students to reflect independently upon research questions related to law and empire, and judge between the uses of different kinds of sources for unravelling different kinds of research problems.  They will be encouraged to consider the reliability of the sources, to consider the contexts in which they were produced and agendas underlying them, and to keep in mind throughout the plurality of imperial and colonial responses to the precise legal context under discussion.  Being inter-disciplinary, the module will also introduce students to analytical and methodological approaches from law, history, anthropology, and literary criticism, and is very broad in geographical scope, considering contexts from North America, the Caribbean, West and East Africa, Turkey, India, China and Australia.

ILO: Module-specific skills

  • 1. A detailed knowledge of the different sources available for the study of law in the British empire, together with a very close specialist knowledge of those sources on which the students will focus upon in their seminar presentations and written work.
  • 2. Ability to differentiate between, and appreciate the specific uses of the different sources studied.
  • 3. Ability to follow and evaluate critically the often complex reasoning of specifically legal material, with attention to legal provisions and procedural rules

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

  • 4. Ability to analyse closely original sources and to assess their reliability as historical evidence. Ability to focus on and comprehend complex texts.
  • 5. Ability to understand and deploy relevant historical terminology in a comprehensible manner.
  • 6. Ability to follow developments in the history of law in and across the British empire.

ILO: Personal and key skills

  • 7. Independent and autonomous study and group work, including presentation of material for group discussion, developed through the mode of learning.
  • 8. Ability to digest, select and organise material to produce, to a deadline, a coherent and cogent argument, developed through the mode of assessment.
  • 9. Ability to present complex arguments orally.

Syllabus plan

Some of the themes that we are likely to address are:
• Legal history – concepts and debates
• Diplomacy and treaties
• Extra-territoriality and concessions
• Land rights and indigenous communities
• Law and the environment
• Piracy
• Slavery
• Indentured labour
• Prostitution
• Wives, children and families
• Sexuality and its regulation
• Armies and martial law
• Crime and punishment
• Constitutions and sovereigns
• Universal and international law
Here is a sample of kinds of sources that we will discuss in the module:
Legislation: Contagious diseases. [H.L.] A bill intituled an act to amend the Contagious Diseases Act, 1866, House of Commons Parliamentary Paper, 1868-69 (255)
Judgments:  Nireha tamaki v Baker (New Zealand) [1901] UKPC 18 (11 May 1901)
1. Full set of case papers: Amodu Tijani v. Secretary, Southern Provinces, Nigeria, 1921
Political cartoons: Gillray on Warren Hastings
Memoirs/Critical reflections: Sol Plaatje, Native Life in South Africa (London, 1973)
Government records and reports of commissions: Papers related to the Morant Bay uprising in Jamaica and its suppression, 1865
Treaties: Treaty of Nanking 1843
Plays about important legal trials: Anon., The Life and Adventures of Capt. John Avery; the Famous English Pirate, Now in Possession of Madagascar (London, 1709)

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled learning and teaching activities4422 x 2 hour seminars.
Guided independent study256Reading and preparation for seminars, coursework and presentations.

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar discussionOngoing through course1-7, 9Oral from tutor and fellow students.

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Portfolio802 assignments totalling 4000 words1-8Written and verbal
Individual presentation2020-30 minutes1-9Written and verbal

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
PortfolioPortfolio1-8Referral/deferral period
Individual PresentationWritten transcript of 20 minute presentation.1-9Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

The re-assessment consists of a 6,000 word portfolio of source work, as in the original assessment, but replaces the individual presentation with a written script that could be delivered in such a presentation and which is the equivalent of 20 minutes of speech.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Clare Anderson, The Indian Uprising of 1857: Prisons, Prisoners and Rebellion (London: Anthem Press, 2007).
Lauren Benton, A Search for Sovereignty: Law and Geography in European Empires, 1400-1900 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).
Lauren Benton and Richard J. Ross (eds), Legal Pluralism and Empires: 1500-1850 (New York: New York University Press, 2013).
Martin Channock, The Making of South African Legal Culture, 1902-1936: Fear, Favour and Prejudice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
Ronald Dworkin, Law’s Empire (London: Hart, 1986).
Wael B. Hallaq, Authority, Continuity and Change in Islamic Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001).
Nasser Hussain, The Jurisprudence of Emergency: Colonialism and the Rule of Law (Ann Arbor: Duke University Press, 2003).
Marilyn Lake, Henry Reynolds, Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge of Racial Equality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008).
Philippa Levine, Prostitution, Race and Politics: Policing Venereal Disease in the British Empire (New York: Routledge, 2003).
Lydia Liu, The Clash of Empires: the Invention of China in Modern World Making (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2004).
Lata Mani, Contentious Traditions: the Debate on Sati in Colonial India (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).
Kristin Mann, Richard Roberts (eds), Law in Colonial Africa (Portsmouth, N.H.: Currey, 1991).
Sally Merry, ‘Courts as performances: domestic violence hearings in a Hawai’i family court’, in Susan Hirsch and Mindie Lazarus-Black (eds) Contested states: law, hegemony and resistance (London: Routledge, 1994).
Jennifer Pitts, A Turn to Empire: the Rise of Imperial Liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005).
Henry Reynolds, Frontier: Aborigines, Settlers and Land (Sydney: Allen and Unwin, 1987).
Lawrence Rosen, Law as Culture (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006).
June Starr and Jane F. Collier (eds) History and Power in the Study of Law (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989).
Richard White, The  Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
Martin J. Wiener, An Empire on Trial: Race, Murder, and Justice under British Rule, 1870-1935 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009).

Module has an active ELE page?


Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources (on India) (on Australia)
House of Commons Parliamentary Papers
Times Digital Archive

Available as distance learning?


Origin date


Last revision date


Key words search

Law, Politics, British Empire, Colonialism, India, North America, China, Africa